Don’t tell LaVar Ball, but Shareef O’Neal has the most famous last name in AAU basketball. The rangy, athletic power forward and son of Shaquille O’Neal has been dominating at Crossroads School, a private high school in West Los Angeles. He’s already committed to attend Arizona, but still has another year left at Crossroads, giving him the most intense case of senioritis anyone could possibly have.
That’s not stopping O’Neal from setting goals for the high school season to come. His eyes are trained on the Gatorade Player of the Year award and bringing home a state championship. Still, with all the hype and that big-time last name, the basketball world can’t help but wonder what the ceiling is for O’Neal.
We spoke late last week about why he declared early, his friendship with fellow NBA scion Bol Bol, and of course, that other high-wattage basketball family—the Balls.
Bleacher Report: Committing early is something a lot of guys are doing right now, setting the groundwork for their college careers one or two years before they’re eligible. What was the thinking behind you wanting to declare a couple years early?
Shareef O’Neal: I went on my visits to [Arizona] and right when I got there, I realized I liked the school a lot. The program fits around my gameplay—big men playing like guards. I went on that visit earlier, in 2016, and I was waiting for more offers and stuff to come, but that was the school I knew I wanted to go to for a very long time. I talked to my parents about it and they were on board with it.
B/R: Tell me about playing with Bol Bol. You guys are both in the California high school basketball system, so you see each other a lot. You’re both big guys. You’re both highly touted prospects. You’re both the sons of former NBA big men. What was it like playing with him instead of against him? And do you think there’s a possibility that he could be coming to Arizona too?
SO: We talk through social media and the phone, but once we finally met in person, we just became really good friends. Playing on the same team as him is awesome. He helps a lot with the defense and offense, just with getting him the ball. He gets me the ball a lot. Probably my favorite teammate to play with. As for him going to Arizona, he hasn't really told me about what he's looking for, but I'm always in his ear talking about Arizona. I know they're on him. I put my recruiting hat on and I talk to him about it a lot.
B/R: What do you think you can do together, potentially, as two bigger guys together and you stretching the floor? How do you see it happening at Arizona and how do you think it went in AAU this year?
SO: Right when we got on the floor together, it just clicked. We both have really good games. We combined for like, 50 or 60 points a game, just us two. We ball out together. At Arizona, I think we could do a lot of damage at the college level. I think we could go all the way and win a title if we were on the same team. Just me, him, and a really good guard. I’m always in his ear, trying to make it happen.
B/R: I saw that there’s this TMZ story about you wanting to go one-on-one with LeBron. You want to set the record straight?
SO: When I called out LeBron the first time, I was young. It was a confidence thing. I was 15, 14 at that time. It was just fun. LeBron is my favorite player. I've always wanted to play against him, because I do a lot of studying on him and a lot of good players. I just feel like, if I do play one-on-one with him, I could have a good chance.
They came to me at the airport, I think it was Friday morning and they just re-called me out on it. I'm not gonna back down from any challenge I make, so I called him out again to see if I could get it happening one day. It'd be a good experience just to see where I'm at playing against the best player in the world. Depending on how I do against him, I can see where I'm at. I'm not doing it for bragging purposes; I'm doing it to get better as a player. I think people don't realize that. They think I'm calling out LeBron just to call him out because I think I can beat him. I'm doing it to make me better and stronger as a player.
B/R: Yeah, a lot of people don’t realize the competitive spirit of an athlete and what that’s all about. Are there other guys in the league that you either admire or want to maybe test yourself against when you get to the pros?
SO: I look for the guys who play similar to me, so [Kevin Durant]. I’ve been told I play like him. Karl-Anthony Towns. [Giannis] Antetokounmpo. Those type of guys, I’ve been told I play like them a little bit. They’re young. They’re really successful. I’m just looking to be where they are.
B/R: Since you’re out here playing basketball in the Los Angeles County area, I have to ask you about the Ball family. I know you guys don’t play each other often. Chino Hills and Crossroads probably don’t meet up too often. What do you think about how the media is so fascinated by a high school basketball player—someone like you who’s young and maybe not 100 percent ready to face up to that stuff? You grew up in it, but it’s not true of everybody.
SO: With the Ball family, they're all really talented. They're amazing. They play a different style of basketball, but like, media, paying attention more to high school and younger kids, amateurs—it's hard. I was born into it, but I understand how people feel. Just a couple years ago, nobody knew I was Shaq's son and then a video came out and now people ask me for pictures, paparazzi all over me, autographs and all that. It's overwhelming for an amateur. It puts a lot of pressure on what they're going to do at the college level, at the NBA level.
Lonzo Ball dominated high school. He dominated college. Now, it's even bigger, because he's going to the NBA. Everybody's waiting to see what he's gonna do on the floor. That's probably the biggest part of it, the pressure. The younger you are, the more pressure you have. The better you are, the more pressure. I have a lot of pressure because of the last name I have on my back. My dad is known as the best big man to ever live. That’s a big accomplishment for him, but for me, it’s a lot of pressure. When I was younger, I used to worry about being an NBA bust, but I know I’m not. I keep working hard to prove everybody wrong.
B/R: What are some of the ways you cope with that pressure?
SO: Every time I’m free, I go and shoot or go on a run, do some push-ups. Do everything to get an advantage; just one step above and just block everything out. I hear everything people in the crowd say, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m more mature. I think I’m ready for the college level. I know the college crowds are gonna be crazy. Depending on who you are and how big you are, the worse the crowd is gonna be toward you. Me having an NBA Hall of Famer as a dad, everyone’s coming at me. Everyone’s attacking me when I’m on the court. The more mature I get, the more I can handle it.
B/R: What is the weirdest piece of Superman-related merchandise that was in your house growing up?
SO: There’s a Superman onesie in my house that’s my dad’s. It’s a very tight one. He wore it one time. It barely fits him, but that’s probably the weirdest thing.
B/R: What are you going to major in at Arizona?
B/R: Speaking of business, there’s so much money in the shoe game and going back to the Balls, the Big Baller Brand shoe is out and all that. Do you have any thoughts on how you want to market yourself going forward, before college is over and as you eventually transition into the pros?
SO: Marketing myself as a player, I feel like...I'm not trying to throw shade or anything, but I feel like I want to do it on my own, not through my dad. I know the Ball family, their dad is a big part in the media and a big part of their marketing. That could help, it also could not help. I just want to do it on my own, to let people know I'm not living through my dad and not, like, doing what he's telling me to do and market myself as my own player.